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Hansen helps trigger Colorado turnaround

10/23/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

After leading his team to its first conference victory last week, Colorado quarterback Tyler Hansen is struck by the dramatic attitude change about his team.

“It’s kind of weird,” Hansen said. “We were 1-4 and struggling only a couple of weeks ago. But now we’ve got a win and everybody is talking about us going to the Big 12 championship. It shows how everything can change quickly. You just have to be resilient.”

The biggest reason has been the play of Hansen, who earlier this season appeared headed for a redshirt season.

That all changed a couple of weeks ago when Colorado coach Dan Hawkins benched his son, Cody, and inserted Hansen into the lineup at halftime of a loss at Texas. The result has been a more productive offense with Hansen in charge, helping to lead the Buffaloes to a stunning 34-30 victory over Kansas last week.

“It was an awesome experience and a great victory for our team,” Hansen said. “Hopefully, we can build momentum from it where we can hope to take the Big 12 North. Coach Hawkins said we were right there -- really close. We just needed a little spark and I guess I was the spark.”

His big effort has propelled the Buffaloes into a key early-season showdown at North Division leader Kansas State on Saturday. The winner will claim an early share of first place in the wacky North, where four teams have one loss and the Wildcats are ahead because of their 2-1 conference record.

Hansen’s statistics were rather pedestrian -- 175 yards passing, a touchdown run and a touchdown pass and 34 net rushing yards after three sacks. But it was his leadership and moxie that caught the attention of rival coaches after they analyzed his game.

“He’s a little scary to be going up against.” Kansas State coach Bill Snyder told reporters earlier this week. “I looked at the stats after the game and thought they weren’t very dynamic in that respect. But then you watch their game film and you say ‘Wow!” That guy can really fly around and make things happen.”

The Colorado offense has sputtered earlier in the year, but Hansen directed them on four scoring drives in a five-possession period late in the first half last week that boosted the Buffaloes into an early 24-3 lead against the Jayhawks.

And then after Kansas had rallied to reclaim the lead early in the fourth quarter, Hansen coolly directed a 10-play, 76-yard game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that provided the margin of victory.

Some have compared Hansen to Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing because of his size, elusiveness and maneuverability.

“He’s a very smart kid, he's very competitive and he's a good player so it didn't surprise me at all that he played well,” Colorado coach Dan Hawkins said. “I think our team is getting better and has gone through a few situations, so I was not surprised by the victory and I wasn't surprised with the way he played, not at all.”

Hansen similarly burned his redshirt season late last year, directing the Buffaloes to a victory over Kansas State. But he struggled as the season went on and Cody Hawkins reclaimed the starting job by the end of the year.

“I’m just more relaxed than before,” Hansen said. “Last year, playing before 60,000 for the first time was kind of overwhelming. This year, I’ve seen and played in those situations, so I’m a little more relaxed.”

Before both decisions, Hansen counseled with his father, former San Diego State college quarterback and current high school coach Rick Hansen, before deciding to play.

“He told me there are no guarantees in life and I might not get a chance to play again,” Hansen said. “When you get the opportunity, I think you’ve got to take it. It was a big decision that could affect the rest of my life, but I prayed about, talked to the coach and went ahead.”

Colorado fans showed their appreciation for the Kansas victory by charging the field after the upset. Hansen savored that celebration after so much disappointment around the program earlier in the season.

"It was unbelievable to see that,” Hansen said. “There are no words to explain that feeling. Earlier, there was all of that talk about Coach Hawkins being fired and cleaning up shop. Everybody was disappointed after our 1-4 start. But then to show them we are still here and to be able to turn them around after the win was just a great feeling.”